Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, by William F. Buckley, Jr. (Doubleday, 313 pp.; $24.95, hardcover). Reviewed by John Wilson.
William F. Buckley, Jr., the dust jacket tells us, has written 37 books, not counting this latest one. It is one of his best, and Buckley at his best is as good you are likely to find.
It is a book, we learn from the introduction, that Buckley abandoned several years ago with only a couple of chapters written. But "I solved my personal problem"—that is, his consciousness of his limitations as an apologist—"by conjecturing that probably no believing Christian who reads this book is likely to lose his faith after reading it." Instead of a narrative—the classic form of spiritual autobiography, from Saint Augustine's Confessions to Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain—Buckley offers an inspired miscellany. Thus, in the space of a few chapters, we get memories of a year at a Catholic school in England (1938-39); an exposition of John Henry Newman on the development of Christian doctrine (here touching on some of the dividing lines between Catholics and Protestants); a running summary of a book called Difficulties: A Correspondence About the Catholic Religion Between Msgr. Ronald Knox and Sir Arnold Lunn, first published in 1934; reflections on the consequences of Vatican II, especially the change from the Latin Mass to the vernacular; a vision of the Crucifixion by the Italian mystic Maria Valtorta (1897-1961); and Buckley's "Forum" of Catholic converts (Richard John Neuhaus, George Rutler, Russell Kirk, Jeffrey Hart, Ernest van den Haag, Wick Allison) in response to several fundamental questions (e.g., "In your opinion, is Christ's Resurrection critical to your faith? ...1